The Columbus Top Six

The Brown Bear, a faithful reader of the Wall Street Journal, alerted some of us to a Journal article that includes Columbus in a list of “6 great small cities for food lovers” and identifies six great food options for the lucky residents of Ohio’s flagship city.  The Journal‘s six Columbus choices are The Refectory, Skillet, Basi Italia, Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, Katalina, and Ajumama.

I’ve got no quibble with the restaurants on the list, although I haven’t been to Katalina yet.  In fact, I’ve written about my excellent omelet at Skillet, the delicious toad in the hole at Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, and the mid-boggling amdong chicken at Ajumama, pictured at right.  The Refectory has long been a Columbus gastronomic landmark — its oyster soup may be the best soup this committed soupophile has ever tasted — and Basi Italia is a favorite of our friends the Bahamians where we’ve always had great meals.  I also commend the Journal for including a food truck, Ajumama, among the six choices.  I’m a huge fan of the Columbus food truck culture, whether found at Dinin’ Hall or the annual food truck festival, and I’m glad to see one of their number get a deserving nod in the pantheon of foodie destinations.

No, the problem with the list is who’s not on it.  No G. Michael’s?  No Rigsby’s?  No Indian Oven?  No shiznite from the Green Meanie?  And what about Alana’s, or the Black Creek Bistro?  They’re all deserving choices, too.

A list of six just isn’t enough to do justice to the great foodie options in Columbus.  And one other thing about the Journal article:  it says Columbus isn’t well known for its dining scene — yet.  Says who, WSJ?

Buckeye Booze

It turns out that the Utica Shale natural gas play isn’t the only boom that’s occurring in Ohio.  The Ohio alcohol industry also is growing like crazy.

During the first six months of 2011, Ohio handed out more permits for breweries, wineries, and distilleries than ever before.  There are now 164 wineries, 70 breweries, and 14 producers of spirits in the Buckeye State.  These businesses employ thousands of workers.  Some have been started by families and home brewers who’ve decided to take their hobbies to the next level; others are well-funded operations that seek to capitalize on the growing interest in locally produced food and drink items.

Kish and I seem to run across Buckeye booze everywhere we go.  At the Black Creek Bistro, which prides itself on its local sourcing, the bar serves Ohio-produced liquors.  At Ohioana events, we’ve sampled wines offered by Valley Vineyards, from Morrow, Ohio.    There’s even an “Ohio River Valley Wine Trail,” complete with promotional brochure, that allows the wine connoisseur to visit 10 wineries in the southwestern part of the state.

The local sourcing movement is great for the producer and for the consumer, too.  The locally crafted hooch is of good quality and is non-generic.  You get options that you wouldn’t get from a large, distant commercial manufacturer — and you’re helping your neighbors, besides.

Black Creek Bistro

Last night we went out to dinner with our good friends Chuck and Laura.  We wanted to try a new place, and after some research Kish picked the Black Creek Bistro.

The Bistro fries

The restaurant is located in the Olde Towne East neighborhood, on Parsons Avenue a few blocks south of Broad Street.  It has been around since 2007 and is a local leader in the local sourcing and green business movements.  In fact, the owner views the restaurant as an extension of his Canal Winchester farm.  Of course, all of the good intentions in the world don’t mean diddly if the food isn’t up to snuff.  I’m happy to report, therefore, that the food served by the Black Creek Bistro is very good, indeed.

You enter the restaurant through an intimate bar area where patrons can also have their meal.   The bar serves a wide selection of drinks and specializes in infused vodka martinis.  Kish and Laura enjoyed a few pear and pomegranate martinis and gave them an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

The beet salad

The main dining area is in an adjoining room with high ceilings, white-washed walls, and some interesting sculpture on the otherwise bare walls.  When we were there on Saturday the place was packed.  The noise level in the dining are was just about perfect:  enough of a hubbub to give a sense of excitement to the dining experience, but not so loud that you couldn’t converse with your dining companions.

We started our meal with two appetizers — the Bistro fries with a duet of sauces, which is something of a signature appetizer for the restaurant, and the firecracker shrimp.  Both were excellent.  The Bistro fries were crispy and light, and the white truffle dipping sauce and spicy ketchup were very nice complements to the potato flavor.  The firecracker shrimp were spicy, with a bit of a kick.  The two appetizers were more than enough for the four of us to share.  Kish and Laura then had the beet salad.  I tried the soup of the day, which was a fine duck and zucchini puree.  I scraped the bowl to enjoy every drop.

The stuffed pork tenderloin

Chuck, Laura, and Kish got the Black Creek Bistro’s signature entree, which is slow-roasted duck gnocchi, with gnocchi, hand-pulled duck meat, cranberries, and a garlic cream sauce.  I couldn’t resist the stuffed pork tenderloin, which is prepared with apple, bacon, and fruit stuffing and an apple-bacon demi-glace.  It was exceptionally good.  The combination of the moist pork, the fruit, and the bacon resulted in a dish that was bursting with flavor, and the mashed spuds were a perfect accompaniment. (I didn’t eat the other vegetables on the plate, of course, but Kish did and said they were good as well.)

For dessert, Chuck and Laura had the banana tiramasu and Kish had the apple pot pie.  I finished off my meal with a well-brewed cup of coffee.  As we left, the proprietor surprised us with some handmade praline caramels prepared by the pastry chef.  We polished them off with relish.

We’ll be back to the Black Creek Bistro.